So recently I’ve been reading a lot more fantasy fiction than science fiction, and it began to dawn on me that the average fantasy book is much longer than your average SciFi book. I did some research. Compiled a list of popular books in each genre, and found their word count. It was far easier to find the word counts for fantasy books than science fiction for some reason, and most of them were rounded to the nearest thousand. And although it is a very small pool of books (27 fantasy / 24 science fiction), the average in popular fantasy novels is almost 3x the word count of popular SciFi.
This list is far from a proper conclusion, as it suffers from the bias of books I’m personally familiar with. But I hope this is a good starting point for an interesting study for some. Why would fantasy books tend to be longer, generally? Writing styles, peer pressure in the writing community, the necessity to build a realistic world, or is it that most fantasy novels are part of longer series? It may also have to do with a lax mentality on publishing companies when it comes to word count in recent years.
Word Counts for Fantasy Novels (27 novels at 8,283,492 words – Avg. 306,796 WC)
The Kingkiller Chronicle – Patrick Rothfuss (654000)
The Name of the Wind – 259,000
The Wise Man’s Fear – 395,000
Stormlight Archive – Brandon Sanderson (786,470)
The Way of Kings – 386,470
Words of Radiance – 400,000
The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien (568,022)
The Hobbit – 95,022
The Fellowship of the Ring – 187,000
The Two Towers – 155,000
The Return of the King – 131,000
A Song of Ice and Fire – George R. R. Martin (1,770,000)
A Game of Thrones – 298,000
A Clash of Kings – 326,000
A Storm of Swords – 424,000
A Feast for Crows – 300,000
A Dance with Dragons – 422,000
The Wheel of Time – Robert Jordan / Brandon Sanderson (4,505,000)
The Eye of the World – 305,000
The Great Hunt – 267,000
The Dragon Reborn – 251,000
The Shadow Rising – 393,000
The Fires of Heaven – 354,000
Lord of Chaos – 389,000
A Crown of Swords – 295,000
The Path of Daggers – 226,000
Winter’s Heart – 238,000
Crossroads of Twilight – 271,000
Knife of Dreams – 315,000
The Gathering Storm – 300,000
Towers of Midnight – 325,000
A Memory of Light – 350,000
Word count of Science Fiction Novels (24 novels at 2,497,123 words – Avg. 104,049)
Dune Chronicles – Frank Herbert (865,000)
Dune – 192,000
Dune Messiah – 74,000
Children of Dune – 151,000
God Emperor of Dune – 139,000
Heretics of Dune – 166,000
Chapterhouse Dune – 143,000
Ender’s Cycle – Orson Scott Card (1,106,168)
Ender’s Game – 100,609
Speaker for the Dead – 128,569
Xenocide – 179,484
Children of the Mind – 113,042
Ender’s Shadow – 140,238
Shadow of the Hegemon – 113,827
Shadow Puppets – 97,471
Shadow of the Giant – 106,328
Ender in Exile – 126,600
Fahrenheit 451 – 46,000
Slaughterhouse-Five – 49,459
Phillip K. Dick
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – 61,237
Expanse – James S.A. Corey
Leviathan Wakes – 111,283
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams (257,976)
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – 46,333
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe – 52,150
Life, the Universe and Everything – 51,978
So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish – 42,859
Mostly Harmless – 64,659
If you have any other word counts I can add to either average for a better conclusion, I’d appreciate it, and I’d like to revisit it in the future with an updated comparison. Thanks guys. Which genre do you prefer?
13 thoughts on “Fantasy vs Science Fiction: Which Books Are Longer?”
Sci-fi does have a long and proud tradition of novellas… My guess would be that sci-fi is more idea-based while fantasy is more world-based. You don’t want to beat the idea over the head, but you do want to show the world in extreme detail.
Plus, of course, various subgenres… some SF is enormous (Battlefield Earth) and then some fantasy is quite short (most comedic fantasy). There might be more of a divide between the length of a comedy and a drama than between SF and fantasy, but I’d have to find some more numbers to crunch to back that up.
There’s a bit of a sampling problem in that all of your fantasy selections come from a subgenre notorious for padding the word count and dragging out the “epic” story, while your science fiction selections include multiple subgenres including comedy. I suspect you’d get a better sampling looking at awards shortlists.
Yes I thought that could be the issue. I plan to revisit this comparison in the future to update. Would you mean the Hugo awards perchance?
Hugos might be good. I think the World Fantasy Awards have a broader range of fantasy work.
I’ll check it out. Thanks for your help.
I prefer to read fantasy on the most part and the serious books tend to be really long, I think, but the comedies like Terry Pratchett, Tom Holt and KE Mills tend to be shorter. I don’t know if you want to throw them into the mix though, they are proabably a different breed altogether 🙂
I read both genre and come to the same conclusion.
I also write science fiction.
I find science fiction to be more detail oriented and fantasy character and atmosphere oriented.
Not exclusively, but may also be factors like gender and skill set. Sci-fi writer may tend more to be male with compartmentalized communication and fantasy more female with descriptive communication skills. Sort of Yin and Yang. Or maybe not, just a thought. Interesting since I read both sci-fi and fantasy. Not either, but just finished William Gibson’s Spook Country.
I’m not sure it has anything to do with gender. Of the series I noted in my post, none are written by female writers
The Malazan Cycle is pretty massive, as are quite a number of Neal Stephenson’s books (I recognize both as scifi works in another link that might help: http://loopingworld.com/2009/03/06/wordcount/). On the fantasy side, the Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind might also be a good series addition.
I’m mostly a fantasy girl myself, so sometimes I do cringe thinking about the word count for epic fantasies. But yes, it is an interesting thought to see how scifi fares next to the fantasy genre.
LikeLiked by 1 person
To be honest I got a lot of help from that list! So thanks for that.
I don’t have word counts, but Robinson’s Mars Trilogy, any of Alastair Reynolds’ books, and any of Peter F Hamilton’s books are monsters. They’re all science fiction.
Hmm. Interesting. I’ll have to update it sometime.